Bentley & Skinner: Treated like royalty

Bentley & Skinner has been the trusted jeweller of choice for generation upon generation of families — both royal and otherwise, as Jonathan Self reveals.

I have been thinking about the coronation of His Majesty King Charles III, about tradition and about continuity.

It would, of course, be the height of presumption to compare myself in any respect to His Majesty. However, I cannot resist pointing out that our families do have one thing in common: Bentley & Skinner. The company has served the Royal Family almost since its origins nearly a century and a half ago.

Its founder, Alfred Skinner, was one of the most sought-after jewellers of his time.In 1893, for example, he was commissioned by the Duke of Devonshire to create a magnificent tiara using 1,881 exceptionally fine diamonds. Indeed, this may have been what brought him to the attention of Queen Victoria for, in the late 1890s, Mr Skinner was summoned to Buckingham Palace to show jewellery to Her Majesty.

Royal approval: Bentley & Skinner is proud of its long connection with the Royal Family, dating back to a meeting with Queen Victoria.

The firm’s first Royal Appointment was subsequently granted by King Edward VII and, except from King George VI, it has held Royal Warrants ever since.

Clearly, serving the Self family for three generations carries no such cachet, yet I can honestly say that Bentley & Skinner has always treated us as if we were royalty.

The first time I visited the company’s premises was as a teenager with my mother in the mid 1970s. I remember being mildly In partnership with Bentley & Skinner intimidated by the uniformed sergeant from the Corps of Commissioners at the door and completely overawed by the cabinets full of jewellery. A year or two later, we attended its exhibition of antique rings, the catalogue of which I still have. That exhibition opened my eyes to the jeweller’s art. A romantic youth, I yearned to own an ancient Roman or medieval ring.

Later, I worked in Fleet Street and used to spend my lunch hours wandering up and down nearby Hatton Garden bothering the dealers with questions and generally making a nuisance of myself. But it was that exhibition of antique rings that really sparked my love of precious gemstones and fine jewellery. Bentley & Skinner has, then, enjoyed our family’s patronage for at least 50 years. My late mother was a customer, I am a customer and now my children are also customers.

Spanning the generations: the company’s rings feature modern and vintage precious gems

While researching articles and books, I have been lucky enough to explore behind the scenes at almost all the world’s major jewellery houses, from Paris to Jaipur and from Florence to New York. I am a member of the London Diamond Bourse and the Society of Jewellery Historians. In short, I have had ample opportunity to indulge my passion for jewellery. So, why do I give Bentley & Skinner all my personal business? There are many reasons, but the most important can be summarised in a single word: trust.

Since 1881, the goldsmiths, silversmiths, diamond setters, pearl-stringers and other craftsmen employed by Bentley & Skinner have produced exquisite piece after exquisite piece in their own dedicated workshops.

Meanwhile, in the firm’s showrooms its gemmologists, diamond graders, valuers and other experts have provided clients with advice, information and, of course, some of the most fabulous new and antique jewellery available anywhere. Importantly, the company’s environmental and sustainability policies ensure that it is committed to responsible jewellery and ethically sourced precious metals and gemstones.

The business has prospered because it has remained independent and because generation upon generation of clients — including royal clients — know that the company can be completely depended upon. Depended upon for knowledge, for choice, for value and for traditional, first-class service.

If there is one thing about Bentley & Skinner that, being an inveterate gossip, I find mildly frustrating it is the firm’s discretion. Search for a list of its famous clients over the past 143 years and you will get almost nowhere. Bentley & Skinner has a longstanding reputation for being able to provide tiaras and diadems, but apart from a discreet reference to supplying the television series Downton Abbey, it is impossible to discover precisely who to. I also often wonder who else, like me, wears one of their reassuringly heavy, die-stamped, gold signet rings, but have resigned myself to never knowing.

The classic Bentley & Skinner signet ring: “reassuringly solid”

In 1907, the Corporation of the City of London commissioned a gold casket as a gift to Kaiser Wilhelm. In 2007, the firm was responsible for making Damien Hirst’s diamond-encrusted skull ‘For the love of God’. Otherwise, its distinguished but essentially private clientele remain shrouded in mystery.

Recently, I dropped into Bentley & Skinner’s showroom to collect a small gift I had commissioned and overheard a young man explaining that his bride’s mother’s and grandmother’s engagement rings had been supplied by the firm and that although he did not have a large budget, he wished to surprise his future wife by carrying on the tradition. What greater recommendation could any jeweller have?

Bentley & Skinner, 55 Piccadilly, London, W1. For further information, telephone 020–7629 0651 or visit